Balog announces education shake-up before roundtable discussions

February 8, 2016


Minister for Human Resources Zoltán Balog announced Saturday that education undersecretary Mrs. Judit Bertalan Czunyi had been relieved of her position.  However, because she still enjoys the full confidence of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, starting February 15th she will be the government’s new commissioner for the development of digital content.

Online daily commented: “The government does not leave anybody by the side of the road, especially somebody whose universal talents make her suited for every position.”

Assuming her former responsibilities is the undersecretary responsible for higher education, László Palkovics.  A member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences since 2014, Palkovics will lead roundtable discussions with teachers’ unions and other stakeholders scheduled for Tuesday, February 9.

Demonstrations are scheduled for February 10 and February 13.  More than 30,000 teachers have signed a petition calling for a rollback of ill-conceived and poorly implemented educational reforms under the second and third Orbán governments.  An open letter addressed to Czunyi, Balog and Orbán lists 25 demands, including the restoration of institutional autonomy and the freedom to choose textbooks.

Balog announced that the first phase of the “renewal” of public education begun in 2012, including the development of a new national curriculum and the introduction of the teachers career model, had been completed.  He said that over the course of three years (including 2016) teacher’s wages had increased HUF 234 billion over the previous three years.

He said the period of development had come to a close over the course of which some 500 institutions had been renewed at a cost of HUF 120 billion (USD 420 million).  The next development period would be funded primarily by EU and government sources in the amount of HUF 210 billion (USD 730 million).

Balog said consultations had taken place in 198 educational districts involving 2207 schools, and numerous recommendations and criticism had been made, which they were examining. He said that among the most important questions was the overburdening of children, the quantity of subjects, systemic problems with the maintenance of institutions, the overburdening of teachers and the method of their evaluation. These would be discussed in a concrete manner at the upcoming roundtable discussions.

(Assuming, of course, the teachers’ unions are willing to participate in them.  Many teachers have called for a boycott of the discussions, including Teachers Democratic Trade Union leader László Mendrey.-ed.)

Balog announced that, in addition to the Klebelsberg Institution Maintenance Center (KLIK) and the two teachers’ trade unions, the following organizations had been invited to the roundtable discussions:  the Catholic Teachers Organizational and Training Institute, the Eszterházy Károly College, the Hungarian Trade and Industry Camera, the National Educational Council, the National Teachers Faculty (a body created by law in 2015 to which all teachers are required to belong), the National Youth Council, the Presidential Public Educational Committee of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the Hungarian Cultural Academy, the National Association of Large Families and the Association of Family Organizations in the Carpathian Valley.

(It should be noted that several of these organizations are run by Fidesz appointees hand-picked by Viktor Orbán-ed.).

The Minister said the training of teachers was undergoing a serious restructuring, with greater emphasis on practical training.  He said they would like to find a solution to make further training very affordable, if not free.

KLIK to remain

KLIK would remain but was to be restructured.  Directors of the institutions would receive greater authority, and from September they wouldn’t have to ask for permission for each and every purchase.

While KLIK is to remain, Balog said Palkovics had been given a “free hand” by the head of the government to fix whatever needed repairing.  The method of evaluating teachers is also to remain but he acknowledged that the bureaucratic burdens were excessive.

Don’t cry for me, Hungary

Czunyi said it was not possible to use 19th-century methods and tools in the 21st century when providing students ever-growing amounts of information. She said they had made a lot of progress over the past year and a half, mentioning home schooling and the launch in December of the “Smart portal” which provides help.  The further development of educational materials was necessary in order to be able to impart competitive knowledge.

Palkovics said the roundtable works successfully in the area of upper education, and he is eager to hear everyone’s opinion at the discussions scheduled for Tuesday.  He said it would be necessary to set up work groups, and mentioned changes to the training of teachers and the larger role upper educational institutions would play in the field of public education.  It was important to equip children with a better, more competitive knowledge.

Teachers’ reaction

Olivér Pilz, the head of the Herman Ottó Academic High School public workers’ council, responded to news of the undersecretary’s reassignment by saying “our problems are not with individuals but with the entire educational system.  The departure of Mrs. Judit Bertalan Czunyi does not constitute change.”

Opposition politicians react

Democratic Coalition (DK) reacted to news of Czunyi’s departure somewhat cynically by announcing that the educational policies of the first Orbán government had claimed the first victim among the leaders, and the task of duping the teachers now fell on Palkovics’ shoulders.  “You cannot reform the brothel by replacing the furniture,” read the DK statement.

According to a statement issued by Jobbik, Czunyi’s departure will not solve the problem of education by itself unless accompanied by professional changes.

The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) believes her departure was appropriate but said Balog should go too.  “So long as Zoltán Balog is the Minister of Human Resources, nothing will be solved in education,” MSZP said.

“Zoltán Balog is the real obstacle to resolving the situation, as it is the work done by his hand that teachers and students are protesting.  And it is Zoltán Balog who has insisted until his nails break on the failed experiment, on KLIK, and on the entire unworkable and distorting system.”